"Why Real Time?"

This e-mail message, copied from the acw-l archives, was posted by Joel English on January 7, 1998.

I like CJ's list of synchronous conferencing advantages. I'm saving it too.

It was interesting to me to see the logged/saved/printed discussion mentioned
as number 9, though, and to see it as beneficial to the *instructor* for one
thing or another, rather than to the students themselves. Seems to me those
logs are, like, number one or two on my list of advantages, and advantageous
to the students, not necessarily me.

Part of the beauty (and beast) of synchronous conferencing is its speed and
outporing of student online deliberation. And I think it's really impossible
for students to really grasp the richness of everything going on *while*
it's going on; perhaps I'm arguing that all of the communication that goes
on in synchronous communication, at least in our classes, isn't *synchronous*.
Instead, like all rich learning situations, much of it happens later in
reflection and metacognition.

For that, I hand out the printed logs to my students during the next class
period, and we use them in further activities, whether it's simply to go
back through the logs and respond to what you were learning (writing in the
margins), highlighting important concepts of the material we're discussion,
or simply reflecting on the learning that took place. One useful activity
we took part in last semester was during a discussion of "ethos" in writing.
Each student received a MOO log, highlighted (highlit?) the places in which
they spoke online, and then analyzed what kind of character they were making
of themselves online, what their comments seem to make of their persona,
what it said about them. As in essay writing, we learned, our writing online
is our online form of existence there, and their voices indeed made up what
their characters were in that environment.

Let me mention another thing this kind of activity allows as I bring up a
possible negative (or at least a generally percieved negative) of synchronous
conferencing: Teachers and admins are often afraid that students will act
rowdy or that the conversation won't be productive online because of
irresponsible online behvior. I think it's important to differentiate between
energy and irresponsibility; energy makes discussion work, and irresponsibility
shuts it down. However, by using the logs from the very beginning with my
classes, handing right back to them what they put out to the class, seeing
it in print, I believe, somehow makes the students feel more responsible
for engaging energetically but not irresponsibly online. Perhaps because
their online discussions are used as texts for our class discussion and
offline learning, it somehow allows for an energetic and serious approach
to our online learning. And important: by serious, I *do not* mean "not fun."
Our discussions are always fun, and I'm sure this adds to our energy toward
learning. But, I've noticed that the more I use the logs-as-texts in my
classes, the more focused and intense our conversations have gotten.

Finally, I'd like to add a more theoretical but just as real advantage to
using synchronous conferencing, be it MOO, MUD, or classroom software. It is
a phenominon Gail Hawisher first articulated (at least I read it from her
first) in an article called "Electronic Meetings of the Mind." She says that,
indeed online conferencing grew up in the context of social constructionist
theory, and it espouses that theory completely: it allows voices to come
together and create knowledge together in a democraticly modeled (Friere)
environment, where no voice is in control over others, and like CJ points out,
no dominant character necessarily can take over (unless the others let that
person take over). It is a true language-creating-communal-knowledge
experience. And I'll argue that synchronous conferencing has done as much
for social construction theory as the theory as done for conferencing; no
where else have I seen people, have I see *freshman writers* engage so
energetically in talking about essays, talking about writing, discussing
the processes of revising, meeting with tutors and myself, and taking control
of meaning-making dialogue than in the synchronous conference. I find it
a powerful thing.

There's me. :)